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Patient Had Most Responsibility, Accused Told Krever Inquiry

Nov 21, 2002 | National Post

In May and June of 1995, Roger Perrault, then the national director of the Red Cross blood transfusion service, was a major witness at the Krever Inquiry investigating Canada's tainted-blood scandal.

Dr. Perrault, 66, testified that a key decision by the Red Cross not to use blood heated to eliminate HIV was taken on expert advice.

The Red Cross relied on the advice of scientists and doctors and in 1983 they were not absolutely positive that heating blood would rid it of the virus, he said.

Two years later, however, the agency replaced its blood supplies with safer products that had been treated.

Hemophiliacs claimed the delay cost countless lives, but Dr. Perrault national director from 1974-86 stunned many people at the inquiry when he appeared to blame the patients.

"The consensus that needed to be developed was on quality, safety, price -- all these factors where various players had some input to give and responsibility," he told the inquiry.

When asked who did he view as the leader, Dr. Perrault replied: "The patient."

At the inquiry, it was also revealed that Dr. Perrault was an influential member of an advisory group for an agency set up to monitor the Red Cross.

Former members of the scientific advisory committee of the Canadian Blood Committee said they went no further than Dr. Perrault on blood-related issues.

In 1984, the group accepted Dr. Perrault's advice that there was "no scientific evidence" that heat treatment deactivated the HIV virus.

One of the most contentious issues for the inquiry was whether the Red Cross had used up tainted blood supplies before moving to a safer product.

According to minutes of a meeting produced at the inquiry, Dr. Perrault wanted old stock used up before new products were introduced. The meeting was held one day after a conference on the introduction of heat-treated blood products.

"Dr. Perrault added that as far as he is concerned, the inventory has to be dealt with unless the [blood committee] tells him to write it off, which was not requested by the conference," the minutes said.

The old stocks were subsequently distributed across Canada.

Mr. Perrault was also at the centre of controversy after the inquiry when it was revealed he had been paid almost $100,000 for his testimony. He was paid $1,000 a day for testifying and $100 an hour for preparing his testimony.

Inquiry officials refused to reimburse his expenses, so the Red Cross paid them.

Dr. Perrault worked for the Canadian Red Cross from 1972 to 1991, first as medical director of the Ottawa Centre and from 1974 as national director. He was later promoted to deputy secretary-general (operations) and then, deputy secretary-general (blood services).

Charged along with Dr. Perrault was Dr. John Furesz, director of the federal bureau of biologics, a division of the Health Protection Branch of Health and Welfare Canada, from 1974 to 1992.

Dr. Furesz also shocked the inquiry when he said there was no reason to put a "little warning" about AIDS risks on blood-clotting concentrates because so many hemophiliacs were already doomed to die from the disease.

"The recognition of the risk was too late for them. Unfortunately, they were already infected."

Although the bureau knew as early as 1982 that AIDS might be transmitted through blood products, no warnings were included on products for hemophiliacs until 1985, when heat-treating had virtually eliminated the hazard.

Dr. Furesz testified that according to his information, more than 50% had already become AIDS-infected by 1984, but insisted: "The bureau was not idle and was aware of the dangers."

Dr. Michael Rodell, 70, a former vice-president of Armour who lives in Pennsylvania, is also among the accused.

Dr. Wark Boucher, chief of the bureau's blood products division, who has also been charged, told the inquiry he believed it was up to consumers to monitor the distibution and use of the blood-derived products hemophiliacs used.

"I don't feel we should be monitoring the distribution of product. I don't feel we should be monitoring how it's used, where it goes. I believe that's up to the consumer."

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